This article is written in response to the FTC’s analysis and degradation of bamboo textiles. Obviously, I write from a biased standpoint, but this article intends to show that the government supported cotton is much more of an environmental culprit than bamboo is.
Chemicals Used in Bamboo
“They are made using toxic chemicals in a process that releases pollutants into the air,” says the FTC’s analysis of bamboo fabrics. This section will list all of the chemicals used in the production of bamboo textiles. 1. Sodium hydroxide. Bamboo fibers are washed in a solution of sodium hydroxide, which dissolves the bamboo cellulose. 2. Carbon disulfide. Carbon disulfide is added to finish the washing process and renders the mix ready to regenerate fibers. That’s it. Then the bamboo is dried, spun into yarn, and used to make textiles.
Chemicals Used in Cotton
Cotton is grown on about 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land. While not a large portion, it uses a lot of the world’s pesticides, herbicides and insecticides. In fact, 16% of the world’s insecticides are used on this little percentage of land. It also uses more than 10% of all the world’s pesticides. Just cotton. That is more than any other single crop. Aldicarb is one of the many extremely hazardous pesticides used in cotton growing. A single drop absorbed through the skin can kill an adult, yet it is still used in over 25 countries and 16 states in America have reported it in their ground water. Cotton is not only used for textiles. Cotton has a large concentration of cottonseed oil, and seeds are used in animal feed. All of those chemicals in our groundwater also end up in our dairy and meat, and produce.
If pesticides and chemicals aren’t bad enough, nitrogen synthetic fertilizers are heavily used in cotton growth. They are a major producer of N2O emissions which are 300 hundred times more dangerous than CO2 emissions. This is a critical level for global warming issues, and the use of this fertilizer is supposed to increase 2.5 times by the mid century. Reminder: this is just the growth phase of cotton.
During production into textiles, cotton undergoes many chemical types of washing. We have already outlined more chemicals that leech into our environment and food than years of bamboo growth and production will ever produce, but there is a lot more. After cotton is spun into the soft and fluffy fabric, it is receives a polyvinyl alcohol washing to make the fibers easier to manipulate. After spinning and weaving, the fibers are bleached using a heavy chlorine, or sometimes, hydrogen peroxide. After being removed, cotton is then washed, or “scoured,” in sodium hydroxide (yes the same chemical used with bamboo). Then it is dyed with other chemicals. Then another chemical is used to prevent shrinking and wrinkling.
As you can see, cotton undergoes a large chemical bath, many times over.
Sodium hydroxide is a strong base. With proper safety equipment and ventilation, adverse health risks are extremely low. It is about as risky as painting your own room. The best part of this: sodium hydroxide can be diluted with a strong acid and neutralized. It becomes, pretty much, saltwater.
Bamboo doesn’t require any pesticides or herbicides or insecticides or fertilizers in its growth process. It doesn’t need very many chemicals for production, and the ones it uses can be harmlessly neutralized.
Well Why did the FTC Harshly Attack Bamboo
The FTC came out with statement protecting a government subsidized resource: cotton. The government heavily subsidizes cotton so that farmers in America can export their crops at market bottom rates, forcing everyone to buy American cotton because it can be offered at the cheapest price. The government has a vested interest in cotton and doesn’t want to see that interfered with. It has been noticed that the FTC voiced that “there’s also no evidence that rayon made from bamboo retains the antimicrobial properties of the bamboo plant,” although many international peer reviewed journals would say the opposite. Interestingly, it isn’t as if the FTC supplied any scientific data with their claims…
This article here, cites a few journals boasting the beneficial properties of bamboo rayon. A simple Google search can produce more.
Bamboo happens to be an extremely eco-friendly resource. It can be used for a multitude of things, including bamboo sheets, and can really bring some benefits to society in alleviating the heavy chemical toll that cotton is taking. Buying bamboo products says that you want a greener planet, and cleaner air. It also says that you can live without chemicals and it can push other people to follow.